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A Look Into Pitt’s Young Defensive Line Depth and the Potential Ahead

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The NFL Draft will come calling for Calijah Kancey after the season, and the allure may be too much for players like Habakkuk Baldonado and John Morgan.

Deslin Alexandre’s eligibility will be exhausted, and Baldonado, Morgan, Devin Danielson, David Green, Tyler Bentley and Chris Maloney all have decisions to make when it comes to returning for one more season.

Pitt’s defensive line will be down two starters next season, and even if all of Pitt’s veteran defensive linemen decide to return next season, Pitt’s young defensive linemen will have increased roles in the defensive rotation.

Dayon Hayes and Nate Temple were hampered by injury this season, but both players will be cogs in next season’s defensive end rotation — along with Bam Brima. And Deandre Jules will be involved inside.

There are a plethora of younger defensive linemen who have joined the team in recent seasons, and as Charlie Partridge, Pitt’s defensive line coach, has watched them mature, he’s liked what he’s seen.

“I’m happy with (Sean) FitzSimmons certainly,” Partridge said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He takes everything really seriously, and that’s why he’s getting better. Sam Okunlola has tremendous twitch, and he takes things extremely serious – he loves to learn.

“Jimmy Scott has Pat Jones type of traits, I’m not comparing him to Pat Jones, but he’s got some things that remind me of Pat. Dorien (Ford) is still continuing to evolve, Elliot (Donald), although he’s traveling with us and getting those reps, he’s still in that developmental phase and doing some nice things. There’s a lot of good things that I’m seeing from those young guys.”

Sean FitzSimmons and Samuel Okunlola only arrived at Pitt in January, early enrollees in the class of 2022, but both have already earned overwhelming praise from the coaching staff and teammates in their short time in Pittsburgh.

The pair have only played in one game each this season, FitzSimmons against Rhode Island (recording a sack in his first live action) and Okunlola against Virginia, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of in-game development, but Marcus Minor has seen how both have grown.

FitzSimmons and Okunlola currently run with the scout team, FitzSimmons lining up inside and Okunlola outside, and their strength and speed combo has been apparent to those who watch every day. Minor has certainly seen their growth this season.

FitzSimmons and Jimmy Scott — another class of 2022 commit who enrolled in the summer — both arrived with impressive strength and power, according to Minor. And Okunlola has a level of speed and quickness uncommon for a player with his level of inexperience at the college level. Even Kancey has praised Okunlola’s get-off speed, labeling him as someone to watch going forward.

Nahki Johnson really grew into his frame during the offseason, standing at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, and he’s seen action in three games this season. He recorded three tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack against Rhode Island, his only extended run of snaps this season.

Elliot Donald and Dorien Ford haven’t had too many opportunities this season, 29 defensive snaps between the pair this season, but both have continued to grow into themselves this season. Minor has watched the two develop as their brief time at Pitt has unfolded.

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to which defensive linemen will be returning to Pitt and which defensive linemen will be added through the transfer portal, but the young linemen will be thrust into increased roles next season.

2023 Potential Defensive Line Rotations

All Return

DE – Habakkuk Baldonado – Dayon Hayes/Nate Temple – Chris Maloney/Sam Williams

DL – Devin Danielson/David Green – Dorien Ford – Jimmy Scott

DL – Deandre Jules/Tyler Bentley – Elliot Donald – Sean FitzSimmons

DE – John Morgan – Bam Brima – Nahki Johnson/Samuel Okunlola

All Leave

DE – Dayon Hayes – Nate Temple – Sam Williams – Antonio Camon (2023 commit)

DL – Deandre Jules – Dorien Ford – Jimmy Scott

DL – Elliot Donald – Sean FitzSimmons – Isaiah Neal (2023 commit)

DE –  Bam Brima – Nahki Johnson – Samuel Okunlola

I don’t expect all of the seniors to return, but I don’t think all of them will leave either. Kancey is going to the NFL, but I don’t know what Baldonado will do yet. He’s currently injured and in the midst of a disappointing season. His decision wouldn’t be surprising either way. Morgan is a wild card.

The trio of Danielson, Green and Bentley don’t have NFL outlooks at this point, nor does Maloney. And there will very likely be transfer portal additions that cannot be accounted for yet.

A realistic option:

DE: Dayon Hayes – Nate Temple – Chris Maloney/Sam Williams

DL: Devin Danielson/David Green – Dorien Ford – Jimmy Scott

DL: Deandre Jules/Tyler Bentley – Elliot Donald – Sean FitzSimmons

DE: John Morgan – Bam Brima/Nahki Johnson – Samuel Okunlola

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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